Ustad Ali Akbar Khan


Maestro Ali Akbar Khan is one of India’s most accomplished Hindustani classical musician of the Maihar gharana, who is admired by both Eastern and Western musicians for his brilliant compositions and his mastery of the sarode.  By his untiring efforts as a performer and an educator he was one of the first people to take the instrument sarode into the international arena. He has performed and composed music for numerous films like “Aandhiyan” by Chetan Anand (1953), , “Khudita Pashan”  including Satyajit Ray’s “Devi”, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha” and James Ivory’s “The Householder”.  He established the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta in 1956.  In the 1960s he established a branch in Marin County in California. “Ustad Ali Akbar Khan” is considered by many as the “Indian Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was born to renowned musician and teacher, Ustad Allauddin Khan and Madina Begum on April 14, 1922 in the village of Shibpur, Comilla in East Bengal (Bangladesh).

His family gharana ancestral tradition can be traced back to Mian Tansen, a 16th century musical genius who was the court musician of Emperor Akbar. Ali Akbar Khan was the only son of Allauddin Khan, a legendary musician who revolutionized Indian instrumental music and trained some of India’s most renowned musicians, including his son and Ravi Shankar. The late Padma Vibhusan Acharya Dr. Allauddin Khan was the primary court musician for the Maharaja of the princely state. So soon after the birth of their son the family had to return to Maihar (now in Madhya Pradesh).

Early life:

His lessons on music started when he was only three years old. He learnt vocal music from his father and drums from his uncle, Fakir Aftabuddin. From his father he learnt how to play several other musical instruments too, but finally decided to concentrate on the Sarod and vocal. His father was a legendary task master and for over twenty years he was under his father’s tutelage that made his practice every day for more than 18 hours. Ali akbar khan was groomed to be a musician of the highest degree. His father died at the age of 105 and till his 100 years of age he continued to mentor and guide his son and inspired him to become a successful musician and keep the musical heritage of their family alive.

Ali Akbar Khan gave his first public performance in Allahabad at age thirteen. he made his first recording in Lucknow for the HMV label at twenty  years of age, and the next year, he became the court musician to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. He worked there for seven years until the Maharaja’s untimely death. Here in the state of Jodhpur the title that of Ustad, or Master Musician was bestowed upon him for the first time.

Works and Contribution:

At the request of Lord Menuhin Khan first visited the United States in 1955, and gave a memorable concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also made the first Western LP recording of Indian classical music, and the first television performance of Indian music, on Alistair Cooke Omnibus, sowing the seed for the wave of popularity of Indian music in the 1960’s. At the beginning of 1945, Khan recorded a new composition Raga Chandranandan (“moonstruck”) in 78 rpm disks (which could record about three minutes of music) at the HMV Studios in Bombay. Chandranandan is based on four evening ragas, Malkauns, Chandrakauns, Nandakauns and Kaushi Kanada. This record was a huge success in India and when a 22-minute rendition was re-recorded the raga found a worldwide audience.

Ali Akbar Khan performed in India and also extensively in the west. He founded Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta to teach and spread Indian classical music he established another school of the same name in Berkeley, California in 1967 and later moved it to San Rafael, California.

Khan has participated in a number of classic jugalbandi pairings with notable musicians like Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee and violinist L. Subramaniam.

In August 1971, Khan performed at Madison Square Garden for the Concert for Bangladesh, along with Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha and Kamala Chakravarty and other musicians at the concert included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr.

Interesting facts:

Ali akbar khan is a descendant of Tansen who was the court singer of Akbar.

Khan was the first Indian musician to record an LP album of Indian classical music in the United States and to play sarod on American television.

He has performed with the famous western musicians including George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.

Last life:

He spend the last four decades of his life in  the united states. He loved travel and tourism so toured extensively till he was prevented from doing so because of his ill health. The Maestro passed away peacefully on the evening of June 18, 2009, surrounded by his family and close disciples. He was 87 years old and had been suffering from kidney disease for several years.


He was chosen for the Asian Paints Shiromani Award – Hall of Fame. He was the second recipient of the award, after Satyajit Ray.

Khan was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1989.

He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.

In 1997, Khan received the National Endowment for the Arts’ prestigious National Heritage Fellowship, the United States’ highest honour in the traditional arts.

Khan has received two Grammy nominations.